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With rich legacy and colorful characters, Zulu remains a fan favorite of Mardi Gras

20th February 2012   ·   0 Comments

King Zulu-elect Elroy James is a former SU drum major

In 1908, John L. Metoyer and members of a New Orleans Mutual aid society called “The Tramps,” attended a vaudevillian comedy show called, “There Never Was and Never Will Be a King Like Me.” The musical comedy performed by the “Smart Set” at the Pythian Temple Theater on the corner of Gravier and Saratoga in New Orleans, included a skit where the characters wore grass skirts and dressed in blackface. Metoyer became inspired by the skit and reorganized his marching troupe from baggy-pant-wearing tramps to a new group called the “Zulus.” In 1909, Metoyer and the first Zulu king, William Story, wore a lard-can crown and carried a banana stalk as a scepter. Six years later in 1915, the first decorated platform was constructed with dry goods boxes on a spring wagon. The King’s float was decorated with tree moss and palmetto leaves.

In 1916, the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club became incorporated where the organization’s bylaws were established as well as its social mission and dedication to benevolence and goodwill.

In 1933, the Lady Zulu Auxiliary was formed by the wives of Zulu members, and in 1948, Edwina Robertson became the first Queen of Zulu making the club the first to feature a queen in a parade.

In the 1960s, membership dwindled as a result of social pressures from civil rights activists. The protesters advertised in The Louisiana Weekly stating:

“We, the Negroes of New Orleans, are in the midst of a fight for our rights and for a recognition of our human dignity which underlies those rights. Therefore, we resent and repudiate the Zulu Parade, in which Negroes are paid by white merchants to wander through the city drinking to excess, dressed as uncivilized savages and throwing cocoanuts like monkeys. This caricature does not represent Us. Rather, it represents a warped picture against us. Therefore, we petition all citizens of New Orleans to boycott the Zulu Parade. If we want respect from others, we must first demand it from ourselves.” “

The krewe, with support of the mayor and police chief, refused to fall from pressures and continued to parade, but gave up blackfacing, wearing grass skirts, and kept the identity of the king secret. Due to continued pressures, by 1965, there were only 15 Zulu members remaining. The membership of local civil rights leaders Ernest J. Wright and Morris F.X. Jeff, Sr. into Zulu, eventually lifted tensions and membership started to increase and the krewe resumed their old traditions including blackface.

In 1973, Roy E. “Glap” Glapion, Jr., Zulu president from 1973 TO 1988, started recruiting professionals, educators, and prominent businessmen from all ethnic backgrounds to fill its membership — making Zulu the first parading organization to racially integrate.

The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club is well-known to parade goers for throwing coconuts, called the “Golden Nugget,” to the crowd. In the early 1900s, other parading organizations threw fancy glass necklaces that were handmade and expensive. The working men of Zulu could not afford expensive treats, but still wanted to give a special prize to lucky parade goers. The men decided to purchase coconuts from the French Market because they were unique and inexpensive. Painted and adorned coconuts became popular with the club starting in the late 1940s. In 1987, the organization was unable to renew its insurance coverage. Mounting lawsuits stemming from coconut-related injuries, forced a halt to the longstanding tradition of throwing coconuts. In 1988, Governor Edwin W. Edwards signed Louisiana State Bill #SB188, the “Coconut Bill,” into law removing liability from injuries resulting from a coconut — paving the way for the tradition to resume.

King Zulu-elect 2012 is attorney Elroy A. James and Queen Zulu-select 2012 is James’ childhood friend Dr. Tanyanika Phillips, M.D., who reportedly was told by James as a youth that one day he would make her his queen.

Elroy Anthony James is a native of New Orleans, La., and the youngest child of Mary L. James of Kentwood, La.. His siblings are Reginald A. Lee of Opelousas , Louisiana and Shannon T. James of Dallas, Texas. He is a product of the New Orleans Public School System having attended Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Stuart R. Bradley, P.A. Capdau and John F. Kennedy public schools. Bro. James is an alumnus of Southern University Agricultural and Mechanical College, where he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting. He is an alumnus of the Southern University Law Center, where he earned his Juris Doctorate and was associate editor of the Southern University Law Review. He is also an alumnus of Georgetown University Law Center , where he earned a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Taxation with a Certificate in Employee Benefits. Bro. Elroy is a member of the Fifth African Baptist Church, pastored by Dale Jay Sanders, Sr.

James is a tax policy attorney with the Louisiana Department of Revenue, Office of Legal Affairs. His primary practice is corporation income and franchise tax. However, he routinely litigates tax cases for the State of Louisiana. He frequently lectures on recent developments in both federal and state and local taxation. He serves on the adjunct faculty at Southern University Law Center and Southern University and A&M College, where he teaches Fundamentals of Federal Taxation and Principal of Accounting; respectively.

This June will mark 20 years of Zulu membership for Elroy James, who has reportedly earned a reputation as one of the organization’s sharpest dressers and hardest workers. Those qualities have served him well in his personal life and professional life,

Bro. James, 38, has been an active member of the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club Incorporated since June 1992. He served as the Assistant Chairman of Finance and member of the Board of Directors in 2004, before being elected to the office of Chairman of Finance. Bro. James has served as Chairman of Finance since July 2006. Bro. James’ nearly two decades of dedication to Zulu includes participation on various committees including; Zulu Ensemble, Picnic, Souvenir Booklet, Public Relations, Anniversary, Budget and Finance and Lundi Gras Committees. Through service and unselfish devotion of time and talents to the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club Incorporated, he has also enjoyed the tradition, merriment and pageantry of this historic organization. Bro. James is a former float rider and member of the Tribal Chief Krewe, African Merry Makers Krewe, Zulu Governor’s Krewe, Witch Doctor Krewe, Zulu Mayor’s Krewe and the Tramps Walking Group. For many years Elroy served as a Coronation Duke during the annual Zulu Coronation Ball. He was a Duke to King Zulu 1998, a Duke to Queen Zulu 1994 and Charge d’ Affaires to Queen Zulu 2002.

James is a life-member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated; member of the Louisiana State Bar Association; American Bar Asso­ciation; Federal Bar Association and the New Orleans and Baton Rouge Bar Associations. He has also served on the boards of Young Leadership Council and AIDS law. He volunteers with the Leona Tate Foundation for Change Incorporated, where he provides legal advice to those individuals who have made the pursuit for social justice their life works.

As an undergraduate at Southern, James served as drum major for the Human Jukebox, the university’s marching band which is widely considered among HBCU marching band aficionados to be “the baddest band in the land.”

James, who played the trumpet in junior high and high school, listed playing the piano and listening to music among his current hobbies.

This distinction of reigning as the 97th King of Zulu will forever rank among one of his highest honors. More importantly, Bro. James is esteemed in sharing this experience with those members of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club Incorporated responsible for much of his educational and professional accomplishments.

When asked by myNewOr­leans.com why he joined Zulu, James said, “When I was a child, I remember being really impressed with what I saw in the Zulu parade, and was particularly mesmerized by the man in front of the float – which I found out later was the king.

“What Zulu has meant to me has evolved,” James continued. “Over time I learned that the members come from very diverse backgrounds – some less fortunate, others businessmen – and they all work together to make it the best organization it can be.”

“I’m having a special King’s bead made, as well as a very special throw,” James said when asked about his signature offering for parade-goers. “I commissioned a bronze-based, engraved coin made with my image on one side and my symbol for the parade, an Aker (an Egyptian symbol that represents yesterday and tomorrow) on the other. I only had 300 made.”

The Egyptian symbol has special meaning for James, who says his slogan is “Zulu of yesterday, Zulu of tomorrow, King for today.”

Dr. Tanyanika Phillips is a New Orleans native. She is the oldest child of Letha Elaine Penn Miller and Leon Miller Sr. and older sister to Leon Miller Jr. She proudly completed her primary and secondary education through the Catholic Schools of the Arch­diocese of New Orleans. She attended St. Joan of Arc and St. Paul the Apostle elementary schools. She finished Xavier University Preparatory as valedictorian with excellence in science and math; and among many awards of distinction received the Alton Ochsner Future Physicians Award which served as a prelude to her career in medicine. She is an alumnus of Xavier University of Louisiana, where she earned a Bachelors of Science in Bio­logy/Pre-Med and graduated magna cum laude with honors in English and Biology. She is an alumnus of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry where she earned a Doctorate of Medicine. She is also an alumnus of Vanderbilt University where she later earned a Masters of Public Health and of Case Western University Weat­her­head School of Manage­ment where she received a Certificate in Project Leadership.

Dr. Phillips is a board-certified medical oncologist. She has completed specialty clinical training and research in aging and cancer at Ochsner Medical Center, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center. She is a former Assistant Pro­fessor of Case Western Univ­ersity in Cleveland Ohio where she also served as Director of Health Equity in Cancer. Dr. Phillips has been recognized for her excellence in science and medicine with published scientific work in the Journal of Geriatrics, national speaking engagements on advanced lung cancer and vulnerable populations with cancer, a grant recipient of the John Hartford Foun­dation as a Young Investigator in Oncology, an inductee of the Ohio Kaleid­oscope 40 Young Leaders under 40, the University Hospitals of Case Western Faculty Award recipient, and Case Western Reserve PREP Scholar. She recently became one of the founding medical oncology physician partners of a tertiary care hospital owned oncology practice in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

In addition to the many national and international scientific memberships held by Dr. Phillips, she is also a proud member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority and the American Association of Univ­ersity Women. Dr. Phillips has served as the Advisory Council Co-Chair for the Office of Minority Health of the Cleveland Depart­ment of Public Health and a lay leader in the Greater Cleveland Congregations Delegation at Olivet Institutional Baptist Church. She currently serves as an executive board member for Minority Women with Breast Cancer Uniting (MWBCU) and a medical advisory board member of the Karen E. Mumford Cancer Foundation. Dr. Phillips was named the 2011 Unsung Hero for her commitment to eliminating health disparities in Cleveland Ohio by the North Coast Nurses Coalition.

She enjoys her life commitment to caring for patients with cancer but one of her greatest joys and accomplishments is being a mother to her precious daughter Sophia Elaine Phillips.

Zulu’s 2012 Carnival Characters are Big Shot Terry Williams, Witch Doctor Jason B. Horne, Ambas­sador Lester Washington, Mayor Larry Barabino Jr., Province Prince Gregory Rattler, Governor Will Montgomery Jr. and Mr. Big Stuff Michael Alexander.

At press time, Zulu members were gearing up for Friday night’s Zulu Ball at the Ernest N. Morial Contention Center, whose entertainment guests included legendary R&B group Cameo and legendary singer Charlie Wilson.

On Monday, the krewe will celebrate Lundi Gras with a family festival along the Mississippi River at Woldenberg Park.

Performers at the 2012 Zulu Lundi Gras Festival on Feb. 20 will include James Andrews, Dee-1, Rockin’ Dopsie, Jeff Floyd, Parker Shy and Shytown, and Ed Perkins.

While last year’s Lundi Gras festival ended at 5 p.m., the hours are being extended this year until 8:00 p.m. Honorary grand marshals for Zulu 2012 are former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial and former congressman and U.S. Ambas­sador to the United Nations and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, both of whom are proud New Orleans natives.

“As a true son of New Orleans, Mardi Gras is dear to my heart, and to celebrate with such an esteemed and storied krewe as the Zulus is truly an honor,” Morial said. “ It’s in large part due to the spirit of the city—expressed so exuberantly by the Zulus on Mardi Gras—that I’m very excited to be bringing the National Urban League Annual Conference to my hometown in July.”

Morial will be joined on the float Tuesday by his wife, Michelle Miller, a CBS news correspondent and former morning anchor and correspondent for New Orleans’ WWL-TV.

This article originally published in the February 20, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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